Never Shoot a Stampede Queen: A Rookie Reporter in the Cariboo is Mark Leiren-Young’s account of the ten months he spent as a reporter in Williams Lake, BC, just after graduating from the University of Victoria in the early 80s. From the opening story of a bomb-rigged defendant in a Williams Lake courtroom to the title story about stampede queens to the closing stories of unionizing a small-town newspaper, Mark kept me wanting more.
As Peter C. Newman says, “His portrait of small-town BC is a mixture of Leacock (the wry humour and evocative literary style) and Freud (psychoanalyzing the rural psyches of his cast of kooky characters). It’s a must-read, and fun too.” Though I haven’t read any of Newman’s books, his endorsement of Mark’s book caught my attention. Newman is one of Canada’s great journalists, the author of 22 best-selling books and former editor of the Toronto Star and MacLean’s.
One of the things we talked about in my creative nonfiction classes is the life experience required to write it—it is, after all, nonfiction. Mark’s time in the Cariboo certainly gave him ample fodder for these stories and prove that life is often stranger than fiction. But Mark puts the stories together with the right amount of humour and suspense to make this book read like a novel—full of fascinating characters and a forward momentum that makes it hard to put down.
I also appreciated Mark’s portrait of small-town Canada. As Stephen Leacock says in the opening of Sunshine Sketches of a Small Town, “if you know Canada at all, you are probably well acquainted with a dozen towns just like it.” Williams Lake definitely has its own character, which Mark brings alive, but it also has a lot in common with other small towns across Canada, which Mark also manages to portray.
Mark recently released his second comic memoir, Free Magic Secrets Revealed. He has written a variety of dramas and stage plays, including an adaptation of Never Shoot a Stampede Queen for a Canadian theatre company. As a journalist, he’s written for a variety of Canadian newspapers and magazines as well as TIME and MacLean’s. He’s also written two nonfiction books about the environment and has directed and produced a feature film. For more about Mark and his work, check out his website.
Overall, Mark’s book is a fun work of Canadian creative nonfiction that I’m pleased to recommend.
~Bonnie Way’s writing has been published in a variety of parenting and writing publications as well as online. She is a book reviewer for several publishers and the editor of FellowScript, a quarterly writer’s magazine. When she’s not writing, she’s busy as a mom and wife.